The season is not finished. Therefore, Matt Hasselbeck is still the Tennessee Titans’ starter at quarterback.
It is as simple as that, according to coach Mike Munchak who, a day after a demoralizing 27-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, was unwavering in his belief in the need to stick with the 13-year veteran.
“We’re 7-7 and we’re still in the playoff hunt and he’s the quarterback that got us there,” Munchak said Monday afternoon. “I think that’s what you have to go with — the guy that has the experience, the guy that has been in the playoff situations, the guy that has been to the Super Bowl.
“After what he’s meant to us this year and how well he has played throughout the season for us, yeah I think we have to give him the opportunity to finish the job.”
Hasselbeck started against the Colts despite a calf injury that forced him to the sideline before halftime a week earlier against New Orleans. He completed 13 of 14 throws at one point during the second half but was intercepted twice.
He failed for the third straight game and the fourth time in the last five to throw a touchdown pass. Jake Locker replaced him in the fourth quarter and led a touchdown drive, capped by a scoring pass to Nate Washington.
“We’re happy with Jake, believe me,” Munchak said. “We think Jake’s a very good quarterback, and he’s going to be playing football for a long time for us. Fans are going to love watching him.
“I don’t know how much he’ll play the next few weeks. That’ll all depend on Matt’s health.”
He added that he did not believe Hasselbeck made the calf injury worse by playing on Sunday.
Locker, on the other hand, has rallied the Titans in each of their last three defeats.
Against Atlanta, they trailed by 20 when he entered (23-3) but ultimately lost 23-17. They trailed New Orleans 3-0 when he entered the contest and tied it on his first series. After they fell behind by 12, he directed a touchdown drive and then got the offense within five yards of a game-winning score on the final play.
His first possession against Indianapolis ended with the touchdown that cut a 14-point deficit in half.
“The situations he’s been put into, he’s done a good job with,” Munchak said. “He’s come in in stressful situations and he’s handled himself very well. We’re very proud of that. We’re excited about that.
“Jake hasn’t been asked to play a whole game yet. That’s a whole different situation. He’ll get that opportunity, and he’ll have plenty of starts for us as we go forward in the future. For now, again, unless something changes between now and Saturday or Matt’s not quite what we hoped he’d be, it would be foolish not to play the guy we thought was best to help us win this football game.”
Hasselbeck started 14 games last season for the Seattle Seahawks, who won their division and made the postseason with a 7-9 record. After he led that team to a victory in their first game of December, he lost his next three starts and sat out the regular-season finale.
In his first season with Tennessee, he helped the team to a 7-5 mark following a victory the first week in December, at Buffalo. Since, the Titans have lost two straight.
“We’re still not out of this thing,” Munchak said. “Anything is possible, as you see with the games each week. So we just have to look at it that way. We just have to win our games. We can’t worry about anything else.
“It’s up to us to show what kind of team we have and what we’re all about.”
As they prepare to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday (noon, LP Field) their only hope for the playoffs is to earn the second wild card. They currently are one of three teams that trail the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals by one game in the chase for that spot.
“We have a playoff game this weekend and we feel the quarterback who started the season is the best player to put in right now to help us win this ballgame,” Munchak said. “Is that a knock against Jake? Heck no. We drafted him eight for a reason. I think he’s going to be special for a long time.
“We just want to go out and put our best guys out there, which we think is No. 8 starting and go from there. If we felt that was Jake, that’s what we’d do. Right now, we think if everything is perfect and he’s healthy then the best way to go for this Saturday is Matt playing."